AP Sports Writer
With the red carpets, limousines and non-stop media glare, Brad Jacobs is discovering just what it means to be the top curler in Canada.
After a breakthrough year in 2013 in which his rink became Canadian champion before romping through the Olympic trials, Jacobs heads to the Sochi Games as the big favorite for the gold medal.
And be sure of one thing -- curling-mad Canada expects gold.
"We have a special team right now," Jacobs told The Associated Press, "and we really feel we are just getting started."
Canada treats its curlers like royalty. After qualifying for the Olympics, Jacobs flew home to Ontario to be greeted by hundreds of cheering fans decked in Team Canada clothing at the airport. A limousine then took the team to its local curling club, where people had lined the streets to welcome them home. A few more hundred fans were in the rink.
At the Canadian Olympic Committee's send-off party this month, the curlers were given the red-carpet treatment. The autograph lines were huge.
"I imagine if we win the Olympics, the celebrations at home will be 10 times greater," said Jacobs, who is seeking to win Canada's third straight men's curling gold at the Olympics.
There are nine teams looking to stop the Canadians from completing the hat trick.
Norway, the 2010 finalist and famous across the world for wearing funky pants since those Vancouver Games, should again challenge. Sweden, the reigning world champion, is seeking its first men's Olympic curling medal and to emulate the success of the country's women's team, which won gold in 2006 and 2010.
Britain, Denmark, China, Switzerland, Russia, the United States and Germany complete the lineup.
Here are five things to know about the men's curling tournament:
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Jacobs has spent Christmases and vacations with cousins Ryan and E.J. Harnden. Now, he'll try to win Olympic gold with them.
Since 2008, Team Jacobs has contained three members of the same family, who all hail from Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario. No wonder there's such a good camaraderie in the rink during matches.
"We have always been a close family," the 28-year-old Jacobs said. "We are all around the same age, lived in the same city, we've always had Christmases together. We hang out together as a team off the ice."
Ryan Fry is the fourth member of the team looking to match the gold-medal exploits of Brad Gushue in 2006 and Kevin Martin in 2010.
TAKE NORWAY SERIOUSLY
There's much more to the Norway team than their crazy pants. They are actually seriously good curlers.
Thomas Ulsrud, Torger Nergard, Christoffer Svae and Havard Vad Petersson have been playing together since 2008 and are two-time European champions and former world silver medalists. There's also the Olympic silver medal they won after losing to Canada in the 2010 final -- although that was overshadowed by the sensation created by the pants they wore in Vancouver.
"I think most people in Norway think we won the gold last time," Svae said. "They are not sure what kind of medal we got because of what happened with the pants."
For Sochi, the Norwegians will be equipped with as many as 10 newly designed pairs of pants, most of them featuring the red, white and blue of their country's flag.
PRIME TIME FOR SWEDEN
After spending years in the shadow of their country's women's team, Sweden's male curlers are starting to grab their own share of the headlines.
Whereas the women have won gold at the last two Olympics, Sweden's men haven't made it onto the podium since curling returned to the Winter Games program in Nagano in 1998.
In Sochi, however, they will be one of nation's top gold-medal hopes after ending Canada's three-year stranglehold on the world championship title by winning the 2013 tournament.
"They have been very, very determined for the 2014 Olympics, that's for sure," said Peja Lindholm, who coaches Sweden's men's and women's teams. "They played in 2010 also but they weren't there to win that year. Now they have as much a chance of gold as the women."
In 2006, he helped the United States win a bronze medal. In 2010, he was dropped part-way through the tournament for poor form as the Americans finished last.
So as he heads into his third straight Olympics, which John Shuster will we see in Sochi?
From a U.S. point of view, hopefully the Shuster that led his rink to a stunning 11-1 win over Pete Fenson in just four ends in the final game of the U.S. Olympic trials. Or the Shuster that recovered from two early losses in the Olympic qualification tournament in Germany in December to win five games in a row and make it to Sochi.